Arts archives do more than simply document what has passed. They also remind us how society has changed, and how our art worlds have evolved into what they are today. An arts archive can tell us more if we allow it to, and if we work to create archives in ways that are purpose-led and relevant.
Yet arts archives are facing pressing challenges, including access, visibility, long-term storage and costs. There are also questions about ownership, agency, temporalities and representation. In light of these challenges and questions, are arts archives still worth the effort?
Join us to hear more about the various endeavours to develop and sustain arts archives in Malaysia and Singapore, as we critically consider the relevance and future of arts archives, especially in the context of Southeast Asia.
This panel discussion is co-organised by Five Arts Centre, Arts and Culture Management Programme at Singapore Management University (SMU-ACM) and Centre 42. As a prompt to consider the possible futures of archives, on display will be posters documenting cross-border collaborations between Singapore and Malaysia created by the SMU-ACM students.
Read more about the panelists below!
Arts Education Archive Malaysia hosts articles about arts-education programs and projects conducted outside of formal education by specific individuals and organisations in Malaysia.
MY Art Memory Project is an initiative by Five Arts Centre Malaysia. The Pilot Project was funded by a grant from Sime Darby Foundation, Halfmoon Bay Capital Limited, Think City, Jabatan Kebudayaan dan Keseniaan Negara and Five Arts Centre.
The C42 Archive of Singapore Theatre features artefacts, texts and information contributed by over 30 theatre companies, collectives and individuals. Learn more about the people, productions and processes that make up Singapore's theatre history.
Five Arts Centre (FAC), Arts and Culture Management Programme at Singapore Management University (SMU-ACM) and Centre 42 (C42) welcomed over 30 attendees to Contact Zones: Why Bother with Arts Archives? on 11 December. Before the roundtable discussion began, attendees had the opportunity to view posters documenting cross-border collaborations between Singapore and Malaysia, including Atomic Jaya (2003), Second Link (2005), Nadirah (2009) and Food, Sex and Death (2011). The SMU-ACM students who had created these posters also shared their ideas about situating the various collaborations within an archival entry.
The roundtable discussion began with a presentation by three of the SMU-ACM students who went into detail about Atomic Jaya (2003). They discussed the various factors that made this production an interesting and valuable case study of a theatre collaboration between Singapore and Malaysia, and took the audience through a microsite they had created. This microsite was their proposed format for a comprehensive and useful archival entry that provides information not only about the play, but about the creation process, the way it was received, and the social and historical contexts in which each staging existed.
The first speaker was Kathy Rowland, the lead researcher of MY Art Memory Project (MAMP), who shared about her personal motivations that drove her to begin the archive, and the institutional support MAMP received from Five Arts Centre.
Ma Yanling, General Manager of Centre 42, shared about the journey of C42's Archive, beginning from its predecessor, the Repository. Centre 42's archival work began with collaterals and other theatrical ephemera that the team had to learn how to organise, catalogue, and digitise, and over the years, has led to the launch of the Archive in 2022, and its continuous growth and evolution in the present.
Third panelist Janet Pillai shared about the Arts Education Archive Malaysia (AEAM), which documents case studies of non-formal arts education conducted in Malaysia. This archive features a meta-timeline that allows users to view the case studies in the context of the wider theatrical, social, and political context of the time period. Janet's interest was in archiving and safekeeping an aspect of Malaysian theatre history that would not get official representation in national archives.
Led by moderator Fasyali Fadzly, the roundtable saw Kathy, Yanling and Janet in dialogue about the motivations and purposes behind each of their archives, the themes and narratives present in the material contained on their archives, and the challenges of maintaining, sustaining and activating an archive. Key discussion points included:
The panelists took questions from the audience, which included curiosities regarding fact-checking, the challenges each archive faces when it comes to censorship, and the difficulties of identifying and classifying different forms of art.
Following the Q&A session, the discussion wrapped with a conclusion from respondent Hoe Su Fern, who noted the value of archives in a region where research and information can be scarce or difficult to access. There is a need for different kinds of archives to expand the pool of reliable and trustworthy knowledge for future generations. The work to build and maintain these archives is precarious, and rife with challenges, but nevertheless important. As we continue to do that work, Su Fern stressed the need to be conscious of the narratives these archives tell, and continuously aware of what they say, what they reproduce, and what they leave out.
Contact Zones: Why Bother With Arts Archives has concluded, but Five Arts Centre, SMU-ACM and Centre 42 hope that the conversations on arts archives have not, and that the roundtable discussion sparked more thoughts and reflections on the act of archiving in the region!